Vote for council and school board Tuesday
A few contested elections on Nov. 7
by Hannington Dia
Reporter Staff Writer
Nov 05, 2017 | 3419 views | 0 0 comments | 204 204 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Councilman Robert Costantino shows off the improved Shetik Field in his 1st Ward.
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On Election Day, Nov. 7, Secaucus voters will be able to choose a mayor, a council member from their ward, and three Board of Education candidates. The polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Mayor Michael Gonnelli is running unopposed for re-election to the top slot. In addition, on the six-member Town Council, four seats are up for election (normally, three would be up, but one seat opened this year due to a resignation).

A council seat in the 2nd Ward and one in the 3rd Ward are uncontested. However, one of the two 1st Ward seats up for grabs is being contested by two men.

In the Board of Education race, six people are running for three three-year seats on the nine-member school board. Voters can choose any three.

Mayor and Town Council

For the Town Council, incumbent 1st Ward Councilman John Gerbasio is running this year to finish up the term of Gary Jeffas, who left in January to become town administrator. Gerbasio will have to run again next year. He is unopposed.

The other 1st Ward seat will come with a four-year term. For that seat, incumbent Robert Costantino faces Steven Kilawattie. That ward includes the town’s southern end.

Kilawattie, 23, unsuccessfully ran for the Secaucus Board of Education last year, but says he wants to run for council because he feels he can bring more change to that position.

Kilawattie is running on a multi-issue platform, including safer walking options near the Secaucus Junction train station and fighting for discounted housing for disabled veterans. Politically, he is an Independent.

Being of Indo-Guyanese descent, he wants to bring more racial diversity to the council and other local institutions.

“You want to make sure that the demographics of our town are represented in the Board of Education, within institutions,” he told the Reporter recently. “There’s a lack of diversity in the Town Council.”

To alleviate parking and infrastructure issues in the ward, Kilawattie said he wants to speak with planning experts and engineers in town. He also wants to fight for either a foot bridge or safer walk way at a traffic-heavy intersection at New County Road, Paul Amico Way, and Seaview Drive.

Costantino, Kilawattie's opponent, wants to continue his slate's efforts. He says parking and zoning are major issues he wants to continue to work on.

“It's a progression,” he said. “So when we took over eight years ago, it's just a continual improvement process.”

He added, “We wanted to make Secaucus a family town, a town people would be proud to raise their families in. So we focused on parks, street safety, improving recreational services for kids, improving the ice rink, and the town pool.”

Costantino touted his slate's efforts in bringing a continuous budget surplus to the town. “When we first came on, the town had a $3.5 million structural deficit,” he said. “Now, we have a $9 million surplus.”

He said that before Gonnelli took office, the Elwell administration would do “one year-fixes” to solve the budget issues. “They wanted to sell off a [part of Shetik Field] in the 1st Ward to put affordable housing there,” he said.

“It would've brought the town a million dollars, but it would be a million dollars one time. You can't sustain that.”

Shortly after his slate won, they saved Shetik Field, and turned it into a soccer field for the high school, Costantino said. Previously, the field was a dilapidated open space used for various recreation activities.

One tactic the council has used to alleviate parking in town is buying up land from different areas and converting them into parking lots, such as one lot at the end of Farm Road.

Meanwhile, in the other council wards, 2nd Ward Councilman Mark Dehnert and 3rd Ward Councilman William McKeever are also running unopposed. The 2nd Ward includes the north end of town. The 3rd Ward includes the Harmon Cove Towers and areas between Centre Avenue and Flanagan Way.

The incumbent councilmen were part of the Independent “Take Back Secaucus” slate including Gonnelli, which first took over town government in 2009 (Gerbasio and Dehnert joined the slate a few years later). Today however, the slate is called “Moving Secaucus Forward.”

Secaucus Board of Education

The nine-member Board of Education has three spots up for grabs this year. Three spots are open each year, and the terms are three years.

Two incumbents are running for re-election: Vice President Ruby Pantoliano and member Lance Bartletta. Board member Joseph Lewis is nearing the end of his term, but is not running for reelection.

There are four challengers this year. They are Kathleen McFarlane, Enrico Bolognino, Georgios Tsirogiannis, and former board member Tom Troyer.

McFarlane is running on a student empowerment platform, to give students more confidence against bullies. She would also like to see mandatory community service hours for all students. McFarlane is a former substitute teacher in the district.

Incumbent Pantoliano said she is happy with the work the district has done since she first won election in 2014. However, she did say the district needs to improve its communication efforts with parents. She would like to implement better social media outreach and hold separate meetings for parents. She has two sons in the district.

Perennial candidate and former trustee Tom Troyer said he is running because he is the only candidate capable of “keeping politics out of education.” Troyer has taken issue with the board hiring a non-local in Jennifer Montesano, a former Haworth superintendent, as the replacement for Interim Superintendent Kenneth Knops, who is leaving his position in November.

Georgios Tsirogiannis – who operates a medical practice in town -- says the biggest asset he would bring to the board is his established relationships with numerous teachers and principals in the district. He has three children in the district.

Incumbent Lance Bartletta says he is running again because he feels his work in helping the district isn't over. He wants to ensure class sizes in the district stay small, and that officials take a bigger focus on technology in schools. Bartletta has a son and daughter in the district.

Enrico Bolognino sees the town's growing population as possibly causing overcrowding down the line. He said he will work with other board members if elected to help prevent this. Bolognino also said communication between parents and teachers needs to be improved. Lastly, he feels he is a top candidate because, unlike some on the board, he has no family members or friends working in the school system, so he’ll avoid conflicts of interest.

Hannington Dia can be reached at

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